Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lagos CCTV Project

It was interesting to read about the plans by the Lagos State Government to commence a full operation of 24-hour surveillance cameras in Lagos. The cameras are aimed at monitoring daily situation across the metropolis through a network of security and command centres. The multi-million naira initiative which is to be executed under the Safe City Project is being financed through the Security Trust Fund of the state government.

It may be recalled that Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, at the commemoration of his 400 days in office disclosed plans to install Close Circuit Television (CCTV) across the state as part of efforts to particularly reduce crime rate.

There is no doubt that most of us have either been or know someone who has been a victim of crime. The importance of CCTV cameras in solving complex criminal investigations cannot be overemphasised. CCTV cameras proved to be a useful tool during the July 2005 London and more recent Mumbai terrorist attacks investigations. While Lagos has not been under any form of terrorist threat, CCTV cameras will not doubt prove useful in tracking down criminal elements within our society. Having said all that, this project might end up to be a waste of time and hard earned resources considering the current state of the Nigeria Police Force.

What is point of having a multi-million naira ‘state-of-the-art’ crime monitoring systems but an inept and dysfunctional law enforcement agency? Unfortunately, the Nigeria Police Force has suffered years of neglect and currently lacks the skills and expertise to combat modern day crime. I don’t even think the organisation has a Forensic department. In modern day crime investigation, the matching of DNA has provided clues to solving complex crime. How many forensic science experts do we have in the NPF? More so, it has become quite embarrassing in recent times when crime investigators have had to be flown in from overseas to help the Nigerian police. The unsolved murder investigations of the Late Chief Bola Ige and Funsho Williams are typical examples. A network of CCTV cameras is only one part of the equation in modern day criminal investigation. While it might give you a lead, you still need an efficient and capable police organisation to undertake further investigation.

I appreciate the fact that the state of the Nigerian Police is the fault of the Governor and that he has no control on the structure of the Police Force, what it does or how it functions. Therefore without such control, the Governor faces a huge challenge in galvanising all the law enforcement agencies together – which is the only the proposed security monitoring and control centre can function effectively. This leads to the second issue about the current structure of the NPF itself.

I fully support those who have been clamouring for the creation of State Police in the spirit of true Federalism, and not for self interest. In parts of the world where true Federalism is actually been practised, the States are total in control of their ‘destiny’. Each state of the federation is allowed to have its own Police Force. A Federal Police is however responsible for serious crime such as drug trafficking, fraud, terrorism and so on. Until such framework is put in place and enshrined in our constitution, projects such as this will either not see the light of the day or stand the test of time. It will either be jettisoned by lack of support from the Federal Government or not be effective.

It might be worthwhile for our legislators to use the proposed review of nation’s constitution as an opportunity to clamour for true Federalism, instead than jostling for state creation – which to me in reality means additional bite of the ‘national cake’. There is no sense having a Governor as the ‘Chief Security Officer’ of his state but the State Police Commissioner takes orders from the Inspector-General, who reports directly to the President. We have seen cases in the last political dispensation were the Police have been used to intimidate State Governors, when they ran into problems with their Godfathers in Aso Rock under the guise of ‘anti-corruption’ crusade.

It might better if the money raised from the private sector for this project is used towards creation of a traffic control centre, which can then gradually be transformed into a joint traffic and security control centre. As both require similar technology, I believe this will serve more useful purpose in the interim until the NPF sorts out its acts.

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